A Little Rogue (Issue 681)

In which we are encouraged (with judicious restraint) to  test the limits of our employers’  strategies, policies, and product lines to help our companies learn and adapt as clients and markets change.

At my wife’s urging  (words to the effect of, “Look, I bought tickets for this thing and I expect you to come with me”), I went to see the show, “The Book of Mormon.”

I read the reviews AFTER I went to the show; they ranged from outraged and hostile (using words like “vulgar” multiple times) to glowing (“best musical of the decade”).  The writers cut a broad enough swath to offend practically everybody at least once during the evening and some people multiple times. (A couple of the critics’ reviews involved their leaving before the show was over).

As a musical, the show was tight – no slow spots, well staged, well cast, and hip deep in some very serious issues. I’m not sure the producers intended the show to be a sales parable and, of course, it was.

Roughly said: The show opens with a group of trainees in their basic training class. In pairs, they are assigned to territories.  The two primary characters in the show – the “Golden Boy” expected to be a super star and an ADD-addled screw up nobody likes – are sent to a remote territory in which, to this point, the local sales team has landed no new clients. [The set prominently features a results scoreboard prominently populated with “0’s”.]

Upon arrival, the “Golden Boy” freaks out at the primitive conditions, the difficulty of stimulating demand, and violent threats from a competing organization. He leaves.  The screw up begins prospecting and discovers through elaborate trial and error that the corporate messaging doesn’t work AT ALL and that, by translating the corporate message into language and symbols that prospective clients understand, he is able to close sales, first one client, then several, then many. Based on his work, and against all expectations, the territory rapidly  becomes #1 in the region.

Headquarters senior managers notice the results and decide to visit the territory and congratulate the local  team for their extraordinary performance. During their inspection, they discover that the standard corporate message has evolved to the point of being debased, completely unrecognizable. The senior managers are SO angry and SO offended by the evolved message that they peremptorily disavow all connections to new clients in the territory and close the sales office, reassigning all of the sales reps to other territories.

Not intimidated by these corporate moves and seeing that his message is working brilliantly, the now confident  ADD-addled former representative spins off his own operation and goes to market with a sales team recruited from his local client base.

Brilliant! And more fun  than a business school case about brand, strategy, marketing, sales, and control.

While all outfits  – large or small; political, commercial, or religious –  need to keep their field sales and service teams under control and while balancing control and innovation are not easy, one of our roles as sales people is to test the status quo – “What about this,” we  ask? “How could we make that work?”, offering our corporate marketing, product management, and risk management colleagues opportunities to learn, rethink, adapt, and follow evolving market conditions.

Sure, they may throw around their considerable weight and threaten all manner of destruction, but shink not. “A little rogue” is how we learn. Take heart. Be brave. Experiment a bit. Look for ways to get to “yes!” that move the whole organization forward.

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